It’s not yet the main stage; it’s summertime; European clubs are in the middle of season prep and the Europa League 'brings you where no one wants to go'.
However, you need to go there if you want to be in the Autumn group stage among the big clubs and the big protagonists.
One of those willing, he is Andreas Granqvist, Swedish international and 192cm of central defender. An Helsingborg-born and a product of the local academy.
Took off from Sweden to join Wigan Athletics 7 years ago, however he was soon on and off loans between The Latics and his hometown club.
Until he decided to cut the umbilical cord with the English club to join Dutch side FC Groningen (2008). Three seasons in Eredivisie with the ‘Green-White Army’ before the call from a big country’s top league: Serie A.
It is Genoa CFC to acquire the tall Swedish defender in summer 2011.
His performances during the first season attract the interest of clubs like Juventus and Lazio. Genoa demanded 4 million euros for the player, however he spent another season in Genova.
During mid-august 2013, Genoa CFC reached an agreement to sell the player to FC Krasnodar.
His first season was very successful as he managds to help the young club (founded in 2008 and owned by Russian tycoon Galitsky) to a play-off with Spartak Moscow for the Europa League spot.
FC Krasnodar won 6-3 on aggregate and, after a couple of months, made their European debut last night in the periphery of Europe: Tallinn, Estonia.
An easy game for Granqvist&Co. beating the local side FC Sillamäe Kalev 4-0 and securing the access to the third qualifying round where they will try the great leap onto the play-offs and from there, eventually, into the Europa League.
29-years-old, Andreas has accepted the Russian challenge almost one year ago and has already won it somehow: he is playing European football and nurturing the hope to reach the group stage.
We talked about the successful game in Tallinn, the expectations from his second season in Russia, the international clashes with Russia (Euro 2016) and Estonia (friendly) in Autumn and rewinded his past memories of his Italian stint.
Andreas, let’s start from the game tonight. 4-0, is it what you expected?
Well, I knew we were the favourite since the beginning however we had respect for the opponents. They deserved that as they played well against FC Honka. We were sure it was not going to be easy, but we kept focused and did our job well.
Am I wrong if I say that FC Krasnodar was better in first half compared to the second one?
Yeah, we spent lot of energies in first half in order to play good football and create chances. First half was just 2-0 against the many chances we created. We tended to control more the game in second half and I think the 4-0 at full time is a great achievement for the return game.
It was a good start in the Europa League, what are your expectations from this competition?
We have a strong team which has been strengthened with good signings. The ambition is to reach the group stage. Domestically we want to achieve a European placement again, maybe even the Champions League spot. This is a young club and we’re doing very well.
You wear the captaincy armband, how do you feel in this role? I could notice your strong leadership on the pitch.
I have been captain in Sweden, in Holland and in the U-21. I am used to the role. I try to make myself heard on the pitch, speak a lot and try to help the lads. I am really glad that the coach (Kononov – edit) and the president wanted me as captain.
You play in Russia and your country, Sweden, will play against them (on the 9th of October - edit), what do you expect?
It will be a fantastic clash, playing there and now challenging their national team will be quite interesting. It will be a tough game, we observed them during the World Cup. They have a good team and a very good coach like Capello. For now, I am fully focused on Krasnodar, later I will think about this challenge.
But before that, and before starting the Euro 2016 campaign (against Austria on the 8th of September - edit) Sweden will come across Estonia in a friendly, what is your impression of Estonian football?
There are no minnows, you always have to be very focused for every game even if you are the favourite.
Any player of the Estonian national team that you know?
Not really, to be honest. I played with one Estonian striker while I was in Sweden, I don’t remember his name (it was Tarmo Neemelo, present-day Nõmme Kalju striker – edit). They have good players and it’s tough to play against them. They play hard and won’t give us an easy game.
Going back to the Europa League, I will try to touch your feelings’ chords.
Tomorrow there is the draw for the third qualifying round and one of the clubs in the pot is FC Torino. Would you be glad to pick them and go to Italy for a European tie?
(Smiles) Yes, of course. They were two fantastic years in Italy at Genoa CFC, fantastic club in a fantastic city. It would be fun to pick them and go back to Italy to play them, however I’d first focus on playing Sillamäe next week and do well.
Later on, the group of draws were communicated and FC Torino was placed in a different pot compared to FC Krasnodar. Krasnodar will pick the winner of Litex Lovech (BUL) vs. Dyosgyori VTK (HUN) - the Hungarians are 3-0 on aggregate at the moment.
What are the best memories from Genova?
(Smiles) Oh a lot of…of course the best one I have is the Derby against Sampdoria (Derby della Lanterna – edit). We lost the first one and draw the second, if I am not wrong. Fans and atmosphere are fantastic there.
Now you play the Derby in Krasnodar with Kuban, can you compare?
No, Italian atmosphere it’s fantastic, especially Genova. There are very good ‘tifosi’. It was a good feeling and I had a good time with the fans.
How are you doing in Russia? Especially the language, I see you need a translator… (this interview was carried on in English upon Andreas’ request as he admitted he forgot a bit his Italian)
It’s quite tough, but I try. Everyday I have lessons and on the pitch I try to speak Russian as much as possible. I try do my best to learn the language of the country I play in.
However, he does not need to learn the leader's language imprinted in his football DNA.